Cheating scandal roils University

Here is the email that went out to the students of the CS 121 class

This e-mail contains an important announcement that is being sent to everyone who is registered for CMSC 12100. Please read it carefully from beginning to end.

Towards the end of the quarter, the CS 121 instructors conduct a final review of all the coursework to identify possible cases of cheating. This final review often uncovers two or three cases each year, but this year we were shocked and dismayed to find that a large number of students in the class have not complied with our Academic Honesty Policy, including multiple cases of students who have shared code, copied code off each other or the internet, or collaborated in some other way that defies our Academic Honesty Policy.

In all our years at the University of Chicago, we have never encountered cheating at this scale, and we are extremely disappointed to find that so many of you would choose to conduct yourselves so dishonorably. Faced with the prospect of having to fail such a large number of students, we have consulted with the Office of College Community Standards (OCCS) on how to proceed, and have decided to offer lesser penalties to students who accept responsibility for certain offenses, under a set of terms we describe below.

Students who do not accept responsibility, and who have been identified as having cheated, will be referred to OCCS with a recommendation that the student receive an F in the class. OCCS may impose further penalties, which the CMSC 12100 instructors will not object to.

You should come forward if any of the following applies to you:

You knowingly shared your code with another student, even if you did not intend for that code to be used or copied (except as allowed in the two pair assignments, PA #2 and PA #4). In this context, “share” should be interpreted broadly: it includes not just sending your entire code to someone else, but also showing your code to others, or working with another person on the same piece of code, even if you each then made individual alterations to it.

You knowingly used code that was shared with you, with or without any modifications, and regardless of whether the person who shared code with you is currently enrolled in CMSC 12100.

You discussed solutions with other students to the extent that your code would line up line-for-line (e.g., by “whiteboarding” code together)

If you come forward and accept responsibility for any of the above, you will, at most, be penalized with zero points in any coursework involving copied or shared code. While your case will still be referred to the College, the CMSC 12100 instructors will not argue for any further penalties, and OCCS will consider resolving your case administratively, without requiring a meeting, as long as you have no prior disciplinary history.

Please note that, if you do come forward, you will not be allowed to take the class Pass/Fail (even if you previously requested to do so) and will not be allowed to withdraw from the class.

To reiterate, if you do not come forward and accept responsibility, and we have already identified your work as problematic, you may have to go through a full disciplinary process with OCCS and could be subject to much harsher penalties in the course. Please note that, with a few limited exceptions, we have not reached out to students whose work has been identified as problematic. If you have copied or shared code, and have not heard from us about this, that does not mean you are in the clear.

We realize that some of you may hedge your bets, and will not come forward because, despite using someone else’s code, you did not submit an exact copy of that code and attempted to cover your tracks (and may try to argue —unsuccessfully— that, because it’s not an exact copy, it can’t possibly be plagiarism). Code plagiarism is a thoroughly studied problem in Computer Science, and our analysis of your code goes beyond just looking for exact matches. There are many factors that can alert us to an inappropriate collaboration between students and, if you copied code, you are practically guaranteed to already be on our list.

If you do decide to come forward, you must reply-all to this e-mail no later than Wednesday, December 16th, at 8am CST and provide the following information:

Full name

UChicago Student ID (this is an 8-digit number starting with 1; it is not your CNetID)

The coursework where you used code not written by yourself

The name(s) of the people whose code you used

Please note that, in these cases, both the person providing the code and the person using the code are considered equally guilty parties, regardless of whether the person providing the code had any knowledge that it was going to be used in this manner. We encourage you to notify the other parties involved that you have come forward as a courtesy, and you should let them know that they must independently come forward too. If they do not, they may be subject to harsher penalties.

After we receive your e-mail, we will assess your case and follow up to confirm the penalties (if any) that we will apply, but please note that it may take us several days to do so and, until that time, your grade will appear blank on my.UChicago. If you do not come forward, and we have identified your code as problematic, your case will be sent to OCCS and they will follow up with you at a later time to discuss next steps.

Finally, we would like to once again convey our tremendous disappointment in those of you who elected to cheat your way through CS 121. Your behaviour is unbecoming of a University of Chicago student, and unfair to all the other students who worked hard to learn the material and earn a good grade under challenging circumstances (and whose effort and honorable behaviour we commend).

At a time when we normally join students in celebrating the successful conclusion of the quarter, it is incredibly disheartening that the quarter has to end on such a sour note for all of us.


The CS 121 Instructors

Good for the department and the university for taking a firm stance.


Wow. There are going to be some real consequences for this one.

I’m honestly surprised we haven’t seen this more. My senior occasionally comes home , pissed off because a certain number of kids in her class always cheat. A couple just got EA/ED decisions to top colleges (to add salt to the wound.)

A modified Prisoner’s Dilemma. Brilliant. Note to future students: do NOT mess with the CS 121 instructors.


Looks like a hack to me . . . prankster or disgruntled fellow student would be my guess.

Regardless, I can’t imagine this ends well.

I agree that it has that feel to it. However, if it was a hack it would have been disavowed by now. It probably only feels like one because we are so unaccustomed in our post-modernist moral evasiveness to plain blunt language, especially when it comes from official sources.

That email cut through the miasma. I liked the old-fashioned outrage and disappointment in it and the recourse to such quaint ideas as honor and redemption. Could it be that the moral lessons from the McGuffy reader and the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear are now solely administered by the instructors in the CS Department? They are definitely taking these errant students to the woodshed - though offering them the prospect of partial absolution if they repent and come clean. Those lessons should have been learned in 5th grade, but better late than never.


Isn’t the proper punishment for cheating an F in the class?

At most a zero on coursework seems light to me.


Seemingly yes, but by coming forward and naming others, the perps save the university a LOT of work. We see these types of deals made all the time in criminal law. This isn’t QUITE that . . . although plagiarism and cheating happen to be up there in terms of serious infractions at a university - the equivalent to a major felony. That’s why they will still get hammered if they confess; they just get hammered less than they would or will if they go through the normal channels directly with OCCS.

It’s real, based on the cyber-chatter elsewhere (much of it, so far, happening beyond the prying eyes of university administrators).

Im curious, @JBStillFlying, about what chatter elsewhere. Has any professor or admin verified this?

Chicago’s policy is tough, can be found online. But I agree this letter is unusually worded.

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I’ve heard chatter about cheating at numerous top 20’s plus the local Publics. Sounds like schools were able to trace students back to sites like Chegg. I don’t know how, but I’m assuming IP address or something.

A few profs have placed fake answers on the web and then busted the students with that answer on the test. Princeton had this situation last spring.


Probably not. Not much personal responsibility and accountability happening these days.

Exactly. Don’t believe it is legit.

Chatter on other social media platforms that admin hasn’t been invited to join, as an example. From what I understand, the letter is legit, but keep in mind that I’m hearing this second-hand from students who are not in that course. But in their minds it’s not a joke. And I believe more open forums such as (rhymes with) Shred-It are starting to discuss as well. And, of course, the OP is a student at the university.

Yep. I heard this one as well.

Just because it seems at odds with what other universities might do doesn’t mean the e-mail isn’t legit. The university has thought outside the box before. I prefer to follow the large amount of evidence, circumstantial as it is. The deadline for coming forward has now passed, by the way. They had till 8 am this morning, CST.

Not a comp sci person so I have no clue about coding, but are there so many solutions that there won’t be some overlap of code? While I see knowingly giving your work to someone else to copy or copy and alter minutely crosses a bright line, the definition of share is very broad. I hope/assume there was a preexisting statement on acceptable vs non-acceptable collaboration upfront. Way different field, but in my law school study groups, some of the best “learning” I received was from working through concepts collaboratively. Computer coding must be a different world, and I would be interested in hearing from someone knowledgeable in this area.


This sounds like Chegg or students set up a discord to share answers.

@BKSquared Yes, it’s difficult to tell if someone cheated or just came across the same or similar solution, but they have likely seen that an abnormal amount of people came to similar conclusions as compared to other years. Frankly, there are usually many ways to go about a program, and I think they realize that there was a lot of cheating.
However, I don’t think they know exactly who cheated. The email to me seems like a ploy to find the cheaters, because it is not easy to figure out who cheated, especially when the cheaters are good at cheating.